We’ve all heard the term “fake news” being thrown around in the recent past. Yet how often do we consider its implications? It is not merely a journalism problem; this issue also profoundly affects PR and communication professionals as well. First and foremost, what exactly is “fake news”? Fake news is essentially news, stories or hoaxes created to intentionally misinform or deceive readers. Usually, these stories are created to either influence people’s views, push a certain agenda or cause confusion. Fake news stories can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses to reputable news organizations.
In his farewell speech as president, Barack Obama mentioned the fake news phenomenon as a threat to democracy. “Increasingly,” he said, “we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.” This truth has had a significant impact on the lives of journalists, members of the press as well as communication professionals who are assigned the responsibility of disseminating and communicating information to the media, employees and the general public. The public now regards the news media with a certain amount of doubt and mistrust, a stark contrast to how they were once seen as the gatekeepers of trusted information. Meanwhile, trolls on the internet concoct entirely false news stories that go viral across social media platforms.
We are all now vulnerable to misinformation and this misinformation damages trust and further undermines the authority and authenticity of any brand or business. The rise in fake news stories also poses a threat particularly to the PR industry, because publicists rely upon the authenticity of the media to generate positive coverage for clients. When trust is lost in the media, it diminishes the impact of hard-earned publicity as it becomes difficult for the general public to recognize fact from fiction. This is made worse by the fact that so many people share stories without first considering or checking the validity of them. So how then are communication professionals gearing up to support clients in this period of mistrust? Can they positively impact how the world views the media?
To begin with, communication professionals should keep in mind to be precise with the language they use and to be more thorough in their research. When fraudulent stories, propaganda or misinformation are stumbled upon, it is essential to delve deeper and to call them out for what they are. Transparency is key. It is important to be accurate and forthcoming while communicating client news. The best strategy is always to deliver straightforward and accurate details to the media. It is also essential to regularly monitor client brands and businesses. Media monitoring tools not only help with data collection but also ensure that false mentions or stories are not affecting a client’s brand and reputation.
Fake news can quite easily ruin both individual and corporate reputations, all by something that is usually not true. For instance, Kalyan Jewellers, an Indian jewellry brand, were victims of fake news when fake videos which claimed to have found counterfeit gold in their showrooms were posted on YouTube and were then shared on other social media platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp. As a result, a response had to be made denying these claims but not before the circulation of this fake news regarding the quality of their gold created huge damages for them. If clients do end up becoming victims of “fake news” being circulated, it is not only necessary to get these false stories removed but equally important to focus on the facts and respond with the right information.
Responding to misinformation in a timely manner is crucial and communication professionals should only be investing more energy into reputation management moving forward. The rise of fake news also now means that the main priority of communication professionals is finding ways to keep the trust of their target audiences. Sticking to proven and legitimate news sources when dealing with the media would be beneficial and would ensure that the validity of any story that is run is unlikely to be questioned. Fact-checking will always be of utmost importance and rather than seeing fake news as an issue, communication professionals should consider that the current attention on it simply means they have the opportunity to deliver what their audience really wants — authentic content carefully researched and written. In this era of mistrust, it is an opportunity to really stand out and be an authoritative and responsible source for reliable content.